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By Tim Panaccio
Inquirer Columnist
Sun, Aug. 20, 2006

Sami Kapanen is in Finland, preparing for what many think will be his final NHL season.

Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock is back at the Skate Zone, the Flyers' practice rink in Voorhees, Camden County, after spending much of the summer in British Columbia. He's got a surprise waiting for Kapanen.
The all-purpose winger will train on defense in camp and play exhibition games back there. It won't be a full-time job, but situational play.

It's part of a new strategy that takes advantage of Kapanen's natural talent for moving the puck, creating offensive chances, and skating backward fluidly.

"This is what I'm thinking," Hitchcock said, the wheels spinning in his head like Dr. Evil. "If you use a forward on defense on the power play and on the penalty kill, and late in the game you are down two goals, why not take the chance and put your best transitional player back there on defense? He gives you both offense and defense.

"So we're going to let Kappy do this during camp and in the exhibitions. There are always special situations during the season that come up and you use two forwards on the point. We want Kappy to practice back there. Why not try it for an extended period in camp so he gets it down?"

Kapanen also will play the point on the power play.

Kapanen played capably on defense during portions of the 2004 playoffs. Some said he should have been back there in April in the playoff series against Buffalo. Hitchcock considered the idea during the series but said that because of Kapanen's badly damaged right shoulder, he would not have been effective. Kapanen underwent off-season surgery.

Given that the Flyers still have questionable mobility on the back end as well as problems carrying the puck without turning it over, why not move Kapanen to defense full-time? Because the roster is overloaded with defensemen.

The Flyers have seven defensemen on one-way NHL contracts, including Randy Jones and Freddy Meyer. Kapanen's addition would immediately necessitate a subtraction via a trade or waivers. That carries salary-cap implications.

Additionally, the Flyers have three other defensemen on two-way deals - Alexandre Picard, Jussi Timonen and Lars Jonsson. But two of them could end up among the seven that make the roster. If that happens, it will definitely force general manager Bob Clarke to shed salary.

Hitchcock is hopeful that Jonsson is a hidden gem unearthed from Europe. No one doubts the Swede can carry the puck. The knock on Jonsson is his turnover rate.

Hitchcock compares Jonsson to former Flyer Mattias Timander.

"Jonsson has skill and size, all the tools," Hitchcock said. "It's the mistakes that concern people. We had that issue with Timander, and he got past it. We're hoping the same here."
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